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How to keep seniors safe in summer heat

Some tips for seniors dealing with high summer temperatures

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Summer is a great time to get active, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy the outdoors and spending 30 minutes a day outside isn't just relaxing, it's also healthy.

The summer sun is great for getting Vitamin D, which is critical for keeping older bones strong.

 It is also an ideal time for elderly folks to take a walk. Exercise is important all year round and for people of all ages but thirty minutes of regular exercise each day can help seniors strengthen their core and reduce the risk of falls or injury.

However, summertime weather can specifically take a toll on adults over 65 years old.

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports show roughly 40-50% of all heat-related deaths in the U.S are adults over 65 years old.

When we age, our bodies become less efficient at regulating temperature for a couple of reasons. Seniors over 65 don't sweat as much as younger adults and seniors store fat differently.

This becomes a problem and serious for seniors as the temperature heats up.

As the temperature rises, so too does your internal body temperature, which is why seniors suffer from heat stroke more often than younger people throughout the summer.

Included here are ways to help keep the senior citizens in your life active, healthy, and safe this summer.

Stay hydrated, manage medications and stay cool.

As people age, it’s common for the senses to be dulled, so they may not feel thirsty. In addition, seniors may already be slightly dehydrated from medications they take for common health conditions like high blood pressure. Health experts recommend caregivers and seniors to check in with their personal providers this time of year in case their medication dose needs to be adjusted.

Managing medications can be tricky at the best of times, but summer weather can make it even harder.

Increased sensitivity to sunlight is a side effect of many widely used prescription and over-the-counter drugs. This can result in severe sunburns, hives and rashes and increased risk of skin cancer.

The heat can damage medications and make them less effective or harmful to take.

To avoid heat damage to medications, keep them in dry, room-temperature conditions that are no hotter than 60 to 70 degrees. A great place for medications is inside a bedroom nightstand.

Checking that seniors have regular access to air conditioning (AC) is important to help them avoid dehydration and other heat-related illnesses. If AC at home isn't available or effective enough during the daytime hours, make sure your senior has access to a nearby, safe location with AC like a senior center or mall. AC is especially important for seniors with respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) because heat and humidity can aggravate their breathing.

Protect Skin and Eyes from the Sun.

some medications and thinning skin can leave seniors more sensitive to the sun and vulnerable to sunburn. Eye conditions such as macular degeneration or cataracts can also cause eyes to be sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Take Travel Precautions for Seniors Who Have Dementia.

People with dementia need familiarity, repetition, and continuity of care. So, changing their environment by going on vacation can be difficult and confusing. Consider planning trips to a familiar place instead of a new destination. A familiar environment is frequently safer for a person with dementia because their long-term memory may be better than their short-term memory. A place they know, like a vacation home they've been going to for many years, can reduce stress and confusion from travel. Make sure to have the person with dementia wear an identification bracelet. Wearing identification can help them find their way if they wander off.

Build and Use a Support System. 

A support system is incredibly important for seniors all year round, especially for those who don't have family nearby. Building a senior's support network can be as simple as introducing yourself to his or her neighbors and asking them to keep an eye out for your loved one. 

Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illnesses in Elderly Adults.

Early warning signs of heat exhaustion, which may precede the more serious heat stroke, include: excessive sweating, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache and muscle cramps. Then as exhaustion progresses, symptoms may progress to nausea, vomiting and fainting.